Off the Grid in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands

For a tourist-free island holiday, set your sight on Long Island.  
Long Island Lalaji Bay Andaman Nicobar Island
A freshwater stream originating in the forests of Long Island joins the ocean at Lalaji Bay, a white sand beach located at the far end from the settlement. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Having survived the night as the only tourist on a remote island, I was quite proud of myself when I woke up in the morning. It isn’t everyday that I sleep in a bamboo hut in the middle of a jungle, with only a ghostly moon and insects for company. But my bubble of happiness was shortlived. I was shaken out of my sleep when I discovered what appeared to be a snakeskin right next to my bed. I stared at it in disbelief before eventually breaking into a smile. I had after all come here, to this remote island, to experience the wild.

Long Island is a tiny speck in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, about a 1,000 kilometres off the Indian coast in the Bay of Bengal. It is a six-hour boat ride from the capital, Port Blair, and is so small, there are no motor vehicles on it. Long Island is the embodiment of remoteness.

To get here, I had scrambled on to the ferry from Neil Island the previous day. On board, I stood in a corner watching the gliding flying fish as we passed dozens of uninhabited islands. When the boat finally docked at its destination, the locals quickly dispersed, and I found myself confronted with a crumbling red-and-blue welcome sign. The forest behind the board looked dense and undisturbed. Next to the jetty, another sign warned visitors of crocodiles.

As I made my way through the winding lanes, I saw decrepit, abandoned houses without roofs or doors. The buildings were being taken over by creepers, bushes, and trees—the structures were on their way to becoming part of the forest.

After settling into my raised hut and making peace with the gaps in the bamboomat flooring of my accommodation, I rested in a hammock beneath a huge tree in the courtyard. Suddenly, I heard three women talking to each other in Telugu. I was more than a little surprised to find people speaking my mother tongue so far from mainland India.

Long Island Lalaji Bay Andaman Nicobar Island

The first thing disembarking passengers see is the blue-and-red welcome sign and a thick forest rejuvenated by the ban on cutting trees. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

They told me that decades ago, thousands of people from Coastal Andhra Pradesh had migrated to these islands to work in timber factories. In the early 2000s, the factories were shut down when a Supreme Court order banned felling trees to protect the island’s unique ecosystem and threatened rainforests, leaving a legacy of abandoned houses and migrant settlers. That’s how I came to discover a tiny bit of home so far away from it.

The next morning, I set out along the coast in search of Lalaji Bay. I’d heard it was a pristine white sand beach at the other end of the island. The tide was slowly coming in when I started hiking with Pawan, a local teenager. We walked along a three-foot-wide rocky coast with thick forest on one side and the rising waters of the ocean on the other. Though the waves were gentle, they made a deafening noise as they crashed on the shore. With the rising tide, our path became narrower. Halfway through the hike, we came across mangroves protruding into the sea. I had to work my way through waist-deep water around the branches of the mangroves. Every time a noisy wave crashed into me, I raised myself on my toes, gripped with fear.

Pawan was amused by my nervousness about the ocean. To him, it was just a way of life. After what felt like an eternity, we arrived at a long strip of beach where the sea wasn’t so furious. Giant, dead, uprooted trees, caused by the 2004 tsunami, dotted the shore. The crashing waves had stopped making my heart skip a beat. Instead, they played out like a beautiful melody in tune with the swaying branches, rustling leaves, and the occasional bird call.

I sat inside a tiny hut and Pawan sat by the shore, both of us lost in our own worlds. The silence was broken by the arrival of the beach’s caretaker and his dog. A middle-aged, stout man, he came with machete in tow. Surprised that he was guarding the beach and palm grove so far away from the village of Long Island, I asked if he ever felt scared. He laughed at my question.

Long Island Lalaji Bay Andaman Nicobar Island

Since the timber companies left, abandoned old buildings are slowly being reclaimed by the forest. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Despite its calmness Long Island overwhelmed my senses. Everything seemed so pure. It was a perfect place to experience beauty and isolation, yet it forced me to question if this truly was the idyllic life. As an outsider it did seem like paradise. But I wondered: If I were a teenager here, fishing on a raft, climbing coconut trees, joking around—would I still feel that way? The furthest any of the Long Island teenagers had ever been was Port Blair, though most had roots in mainland India, in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh.

Back at the guesthouse, I was lying in a hammock with my book when the three women came back and handed me a guava just plucked from a tree. It made me think about what a blessing Long Island’s remoteness was for me. The opportunity to go off the grid in this overconnected world was a privilege. I realised that there was more to the Andamans than sparkling beaches and amazing marine life. Old growth forests that seemed to be straight out of the Jurassic era added to the enchanting aura of the emerald isles. The fact that I could give my book complete attention, experience nature around me, or have conversations without the distraction of a ringing mobile phone or a blaring television felt like bliss. And the people—they brought the island alive.

After the three women left, somewhere in my head I heard the ocean singing and against that background score I was soon lost in my book. It was just another day on Long Island, where the joy of solitude meets the tranquility of nature.


 

Ferry Ride Long Island Lalaji Bay Andaman Nicobar Island

The fascinating ferry ride from Yerrata to Long Island passes through narrow mangrove-lined passages. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

The Guide

Orientation

The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located in the Bay of Bengal, closer to Thailand than mainland India. The capital, Port Blair, is near the  southern end of the archipelago. Long Island is about 125 km north of the capital. Approximately 2,000 people live on Long Island and few tourists come, so the infrastructure is basic. There are no vehicles or tour operators and only one hotel.

Getting There

Long Island can be reached from Port Blair. There are regular flights and ships to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata. The flight takes about two hours while the ship takes four days. Travel to Long Island by ferry from Port Blair or Yerrata Jetty, or by road.

Ferry from Port Blair There is a ferry to Long Island at 6.15 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (190 per head; duration 4-5 hours). Tickets are sold a day before the journey and it is advisable to buy them as soon as possible as they sell out quickly, especially during tourist season (Dec-Jan). The return ferry to Port Blair leaves from Long Island every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday.

Road/Ferry from Yerrata Jetty From the State Transport Bus Stand in Port Blair take a bus to Rangat in the Middle Andaman Islands (200 per head; duration 6-8 hours). The first bus leaves at 3.45 a.m. and you need to board one before 7 a.m. to reach Rangat in time to catch the connecting ferry to Long Island. From Rangat, take a second bus to Yerrata Jetty (10 per head; duration 30 minutes; frequent buses) or hire an autorickshaw (50). From Yerrata Jetty, there are two ferries to Long Island. The first leaves at 9 a.m. and the second at 4 p.m. (9 per head; duration 1 hour).

Note Foreigners require a restricted access permit that can be obtained at Port Blair on arrival.

Stay

Blue Planet is an eco-friendly property built around a tree close to the village. The rooms are basic and separated by bamboo walls. Book in advance during peak season as Long Island is famous for its remoteness and this is the only accommodation available here apart from a forest resthouse (03192-215923/94742 12180; www.blueplanetandamans.com; doubles from ₹1,000).

Forest Resthouse has three rooms and rudimentary facilities. It has to be booked in advance by sending an application by fax or post to the Divisional Forests Officer, Middle Andaman, A&N (03192-274210; fax 03193-269054; ₹500 per head).

Explore

Hiking
Lalaji Bay, a beautiful white sand beach, is a short hike from the village. There are two trails, one through the jungle (1-2 hours) and the other along the coast (3 hours). The jungle trail is inaccessible during the monsoon, which is between June and October. The hike along the coast must be timed to avoid high tide.

Long Island Lalaji Bay Andaman Nicobar Island

Many dead trees line the coast of Long Island. Photo: Neelima Vallangi

Diving
There are several wonderful dive sites around Long Island with new ones being explored and added regularly. Blue Planet offers equipment and organises dives as well as certification courses (₹2,500 for a dive; details at www.blueplanetandamans.com/scuba-diving-andamans).

Snorkelling
The waters around Long Island are crystal clear except when the sea is rough. Lalaji Bay and the beach near Blue Planet are great places to snorkel. Visitors can rent masks for 200 a day and explore to their heart’s content.

Island Trips
Those who don’t want to hike can rent a boat to Lalaji Bay (₹2,500 for two, both ways, including waiting time). You can also plan boat trips to uninhabited islands and wonderful beaches nearby, such as Guitar Island, Merk’s Bay, and the Button Islands.

Explore the Mangroves
The Long Island-Yerrata Jetty ferry offers a great view of the mangroves around the islands, travelling past thick groves and through a dramatic, narrow passage. At Yerrata Jetty, travellers can visit the Mangrove Interpretation Centre for information about this unique ecosystem and its many benefits for the islands. The first ferry to Yerrata leaves at 7 a.m. and the last ferry from Yerrata to Long Island is at 4 p.m., making for a comfortable day trip.

Seasons

During winter (late Oct-Feb), days are bright and sunny, and underwater visibility is excellent. Temperatures range between 20-28°C. Port Blair and Havelock Island can get quite crowded in tourist season (Dec-Jan). During the monsoon (June-Oct), it rains heavily for more than 20 days each month and humidity is more than 80 per cent. Summer (Mar-May) is hot, with day temperatures going up to 35°C.

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    Neelima Vallangi is an itinerant freelance travel writer and photographer who enjoys purposefully getting lost in the mountains and going to faraway corners where Google Maps fail. She tweets as @i_wanderingsoul.

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